Thursday, January 17, 2013

Exorcism Number Three: Dragana Drobnjak

 Hey. I'm still doing this. Astounded? SO AM I.

This week we have the unfathomably lovely and the amazingly knowledgeable, Dragana Drobnjak. I met Dragana in 2004 when she was playing in a band called "The Four of Us Are Dying." Since then I have only ever known her to be positive and productive. She currently plays keys in "The Grains" and is the keyboardist AND lead singer of "The Susan Atkins Diet." In 2010, She founded Lovecraft House- a DIY publishing press and record label- which very recently became an official non-profit!

Additionally, Dragana has been ceaselessly supportive of the music scene in NJ. She always played in bands, she has always booked shows, and she has always advertised for others and tried to keep things moving forward. She is a true ENTHUSIAST with real KNOWLEDGE on a variety of subjects, and is a real inspiration to me and many others. Here is just the tiniest bit of her rad story. Enjoy <3

What was your musical role in the band "The four of us are dying" and then later "Come wander with me?"

I played bells (xylophone) and keys in both bands.

Though they were basically the same band, were there any lineup changes?

"The Four of Us are Dying” was a seven-piece band that due to its size struggled to organize practice after graduation from high school. “Come Wander With Me” became the bare bones version of the previous band, with four members instead of seven.

Where do those band names originate?

We were all huge fans of The Twilight Zone, and both of the bands’ names were titles of the series’ episodes.

Was keyboard your first instrument?

I didn’t play any music at all prior to playing in “The Four of Us are Dying”, I didn’t know any theory and couldn’t play by ear. Practicing and playing shows made me extremely anxious, but somehow I carried through. I was exposed to music from an early age though; my cousin would often make up songs for me on his guitar, so this enthrallment with music was ever-present.

How did you learn to play?

The learning process was very slow and still continues today. Initially I just learned how to play a few chords, which is basically all you need to start. Well that and an attitude that doesn’t allow for self-defeatism. I think the majority of songs that the Ramones wrote were under five chords, but they inspired many kids to pick up instruments and start making noise.

Did you ever take lessons?
Not really, although I did try taking guitar lessons once… The experience bummed me out so much that I didn’t pick up the guitar for a few years. He should have showed me how to play powerchords instead of dulling the moments by going through a dreary beginner guitar instruction booklet.

Who are some musicians you look up to now and some bands that influenced how and why you play music?

Even though I have a few favorite bands that have made a name for themselves in the punk scene, some of my most influential musicians and bands have stemmed from the local New Jersey scene. One of the bands that I was most impressed with during my early show-going years was “Hunchback”, a band that you, Miranda, played drums in. Through the community that the band surrounded itself with I was able to connect with some truly amazing individuals that have inspired me to keep pursuing music and art. Most of those individuals recognized the importance of developing underground and DIY philosophies unhindered by motivations for profit – this is why the New Brunswick basement scene always felt like home to me. The underground scene continues to thrive, and I’m happy to say that many of my current favorite bands (like brick mower, 3Jane and Black Wine) are a part of it.

What were some of your first favorite bands? 

My first favorite bands included former-Yugoslavian acts like “Tajči” (she was the Yugoslavian equivalent of Madonna), folk sensation “Lepa Brena”, yu-rockers “Bajaga i Instruktori” and punk bands like “Električni Orgazam” and “Babe”. I spent many summers in a swing at my grandma Zora’s farmhouse belting out Yugoslavian radio hits.

Talk about playing keyboards in "The Grains" and how your playing has evolved over the years.

Hanging out with the other members of The Grains (Mike Regrets, Blake Larsen, Andrew Edelhauser and Scott Kenny) made me truly appreciate the roots of American rock’n’roll and punk music. I fell in love with Detroit Blues, John Lee Hooker, MC5 and Hank Williams (‘Ramblin' Man’ is one of my favorite songs), among others. My playing evolved through practice and learning things like the 12-bar blues, which Mike Regrets kindly taught me.

Talk about "The Susan Atkins Diet" and about being a lead singer. What made you want to start this band?

The conversation about starting The Susan Atkins Diet was initiated during a fundraiser show for New Brunswick’s Clit Fest at which Tacocat played. I was at the show with my friend Becky where we ran into Dan whom we knew from “The Jurks”, a band he used to play guitar for. We got to talking and decided to start a riot girl band, since that was something we all always wanted to do. Soon thereafter Rachel Chernoff joined us on drums. Initially I didn’t plan on singing in the band considering I have never sung for one before, but I wanted to do something else besides just playing the keys. I think that it takes a lot of guts to be able to sing in front of people, so the experience was an exercise in confidence for me.

Were there specific themes you wanted address as a singer?

Dan and I both really wanted to address some issues that we thought were important. The band collectively considers itself as an anarchist surf/riot girl band.  Most of our songs are about sexism (or stereotypes associated with gender), racism, classism, political as well as law-enforcement abuse and corruption. We think it’s important to engage in dialogue about these issues, and one way of expressing ideas is through lyrics.


What draws you to horror and supernatural themes in media?

Horror and supernatural themes often, but not always, draw from real fears, issues and anxieties. They are often reflections of an individual’s understandings of themselves, the society and its expectations, the culture and various establishments found therein. Some of the best analysis of issues like sexism and consumerism has been portrayed in horror films. We fear the unknown because we have a hard time fathoming that more exists beyond the visible and known. To quote H. P. Lovecraft, "The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown."

Who are some of your favorite authors and directors etc?

Some of my favorite authors include Edgar Allan Poe, Aaron Cometbus, John Steinbeck, Ray Bradbury, H. P. Lovecraft, George Orwell, Aldous Huxley and current authors like Peter Bagge (who is a comic book guy) and Michael Chabon. Wostok, a great Serbian cartoonist, recently alerted me to poetry of Vasko Popa and certain Russian avant-garde poets like Nikolay Zabolotsky. I also really love reading anything that Mike Regrets, Craig Fu Yong (The Degenerics, Plastic Cross), Mike Hunchback (Freedom School Records), and Hannah Neurotica (Ax Wound zine) write.

My favorite directors include George Romero, Lisa Hammer, Dušan Makavejev, Sam Raimi, Samuel Fuller, Roger Corman, Frank Henenlotter, Wong Kar-Wai, Alex Cox, Penelope Spheeris, the Coen brothers, David Lynch, the Farrelly brothers, and so on... These lists are by no means exhaustive.

I also want to mention that I’m a big fan of art depicting aloneness, or artists whose work portrays “lonely voyeurism.” Edward Hopper, Andrew Wyeth and Georgia O’Keeffe are some that are able to capture these reflective moments.

 Do they have an influence on your music/writing/art?

Of course! Their interpretations help expand my own understanding of the world that we live in. I think that I would be less understanding and more biased if I solely drew conclusions based on my experience alone.

Talk about "Lovecraft House" and your fanzine "Night of the Fandom."

DIY publishing is essential considering the world that we live in. Major publishing houses’ publications are driven by motives for profit and profit is usually made by appeals to a more mainstream public. This is something that underground art, music and culture aren’t often a part of. In my opinion it is regressive to attempt to appeal to any one’s taste in particular, and that is why small scale publishing is vital.

The other important thing to consider is documentation. Small scale publishing insures that voices not often heard are recorded. Night of the Fandom is an attempt to encapsulate the work of certain artists and writers that have dedicated their lives to the craft. Lovecraft House itself is named after the pursuit of this passion.

How did they originate and how are they evolving?

Night of the Fandom was formed as an attempt for reflection of culture and community that I was a fan of. Through the zine I was able to make contact with artists and authors from different parts of the world, and I began to understand that the driving philosophies for DIY and underground based work were incredibly similar.

Lovecraft House is currently in the process of collecting material for a book anthology of weird/underground/horror/sci-fi art and comics. This book will be published in late spring 2013 with funds raised over Kickstarter (so please keep an eye out for that!). I am also translating a Serbian comic whose issues will initially be released as zines, and later published as a book. There is also a public access TV show in the works, so please stay tuned!

Where were you born and where have you lived? How old were you when you moved to the states?

I was born in former Yugoslavia, and I lived in Croatia, Bosnia and Serbia. I was thirteen when I moved to America and I lived in different states before calling New Jersey home.

What was your childhood like and how has that affected you today?

I was incredibly independent in my early childhood due to pre-war culture and ease of life in former Yugoslavia. I would spend summers away from parents and living with my grandmas, one of which lived in a city, the other in the country. Both of them lived alone, grew huge gardens that fed many households, tended to orchards, knitted clothes, and lived what we consider complete DIY lifestyles. They were also born in hardship following World War I, survived nightmares of World War II and then again of the Yugoslav Wars in 1990s. I believe that my grandmas greatly affected the way that I work and think about life.

You honor the idea of cultivating a community above most other things it seems. Why is community important to you and what steps were taken to achieve your goals?

During the Yugoslav Wars, my family was split and we all eventually became refugees. My family lost its home and due to unwarranted hatred we were not able to settle in any of the newly formed Yugoslav states. I spent years trying to recreate a sense of belonging and community, as well as a place to call home. I came to an understand that a community can be formed due to a mutual desire for expression, like the scene that you and I both belong to. I think that most of the work that I do is out of appreciation of this community’s passion and labor. However as I recently came to understand, communities do not necessarily have to exist in physical places.

What are your parents like?

My parents are extremely hardworking. It is only under very rare occasions that my father does not have a project. He is truly a jack of all trades and I am constantly impressed with the things he creates. Their lives have also been extremely hard - my mom was 29 years old when the war started and she already had my brother and I. They moved to this country when we were about to hit puberty, with no knowledge of the American culture beyond the one witnessed on TV and things shown there can be more frightening than most horror films, so you can imagine how they felt. But they went from living in a refugee camp and digging potato fields to being their own bosses.

Do you have any ghost stories?

I have seen ghosts on a number of occasions, but I have never felt compelled to talk about them. So I’m glad you ask this question. I have mostly seen ghost cats, but they scurry out of line of sight before I have a chance to confirm that was what I saw. I have also seen a few human ghosts dressed in late 18th century clothing, walking alongside or crossing the road. However, these apparitions haven’t stayed visible for long and they have never interacted with me. Another time I was awakened by sound of the piano playing in my living room, inside of which I later found a pink silk handkerchief. That piano was also made in late 18th century and use to belong to a piano teacher.

Thanks so much Dragana. Heres links:

1 comment:

  1. Drags is definitely an inspiration and an inspiring person just to be around! Amazingly funny that the Four of Us Are Dying turned into a 4-member band not called "The Four of Us Are Dying"! Great interview!